The 12th Sunday after Pentecost (Week of the Sunday from August 7 to August 13)
Almighty God, give us the increase of faith, hope, and love; and, that we may obtain what you have promised, make us love what you command; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
The Beatles tell us that it’s easy: all we need is love, love, love. In this song, they hew close to the repeated insistence in scripture that we who call ourselves Christians are profoundly loved by God and in return ought to love and be known by our love.
But this week’s collect suggests that it’s not as easy as the Beatles say. For if love were easy, would we need divine aid to love what God commands?
The Challenge of Love
When we consider who we are commanded to love, the need for this prayer begins to become clear: Jesus tells us to love God with all our heart, soul and mind, and our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22:37). And if this isn’t enough of a challenge, Jesus also tells us to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44).
And when we consider what love is, we find even more need for help. In 1 Corinthians 13, a passage become nearly cliched but no less true or convicting because of its frequent repetition, Paul tells us what love is. Love is patient, kind, humble, not envious, not selfish. Love protects, trusts, hopes, perseveres.
Love is the first of the fruits of the spirit (Gal. 5:22), the virtue that binds together all others (Col. 3:14). Love gives knowledge meaning and depth, without which is would be senseless noise (1 Cor. 13).
Love is foundational to Christianity: God loves us, and the only appropriate response is to love God and, in imitation of Christ, love others. But as the collect suggests, we are not capable of this deep and extensive love on our own.
Growing in Love
Loving our neighbor does not always come easily; loving our enemy often seems impossible. And how often we find ourselves impatient and unkind towards even those who we love best.
But the apostle John reassures us that love comes from God (1 John 4:7). God — as Father, Son and Spirit, as Creator and Redeemer — shows us what it is to love. And because of that love shown to us by God, we ourselves can also love God and our neighbors.
This love that God shows us, though, is not a generalized feeling of goodwill towards others. It’s a love that puts the other person first, that loves even the seemingly unlovable, that continues loving in the midst of pain and rejection. It’s a love that sacrifices without expecting anything in return.
Love that reflects God’s love is both a gift, a manifestation of the Holy Spirit in our lives, and ongoing actions that require discipline and commitment. But this collect reminds us that precisely because of God’s love, we are not on our own as we learn to love others. God will make us capable of loving what is commanded.
So let us pray this collect in faith and in hope that God will help us to grow in love.